At some point in our lives, most of us experience a defining moment. Like the climax to a movie, it’s an event or conversation from which life after that is measured. Sometimes, we even get more than one.
The first one I remember came during a weekend retreat with my family. I was suffering from church-kid syndrome. I had grown indifferent to my faith — indifferent but not exactly unbelieving. When I realized the problem, I altered my behavior in order to move closer to God. I shut out ungodly influences. And I worked on my terrible attitude towards my algebra teacher, which played out in thoughts of I hate word problems, and therefore, you.
Finally, after months of attempting to move closer to God, I realized that I had. I was washing my hair in the shower and the feeling overwhelmed me like the blast of water that rinsed my shampoo: I was happy. Completely, overwhelmingly thrilled that I had been saved by God and was on the narrow path of serving Him. It was my defining moment. The big memorable event in the movie called the climax.
I think because of that moment, and events similar to it, I came to expect all of my emotional breakthroughs to appear with that same immediacy. They haven’t.
Life is often a series of stressful events. They can be obvious and dramatic, such as a death in the family, but more often they are small. They come with little children and big bills and nagging colds and broken appliances. They pile one after the other onto my soul until I know without hesitation, I need a breakthrough. I need relief from the feeling that all of these little things are suffocating anything that resembled a biblical outlook on life.
So I ask for it: God, I need an emotional breakthrough. And He always comes through for me just as He did the first time I reached for Him. He tells me in the Bible that He will. "Which of you, if your child asks for bread, will give him a stone?" Jesus asks in Matthew 7:9. Two verses earlier, I’m told to "ask, and it will be given to you."
This is not just a biblical theory. I’ve proven Him over and over in my life, and sometimes the breakthrough is as sudden and relieving as one very intense visit with Him and the sense of peace that follows. Far more often, though, it’s not. Usually when I ask for the breakthrough, it trickles in one reassuring moment after another until I am through it.
The problem with always expecting the huge, defining moment, is that after I experience one, I’m sometimes left to wonder, "What now?"
When I had my first child, I actually said, "If I never do anything else in my life, I will have been great because of him." I felt completely done with the struggle to become someone important in this life. I felt content and fully satisfied. But what happened then? He became an infant and then a toddler. I still had so much left to do. I love to remember that moment when he was born and the way that I felt, but the greatest miracle was the decision that followed each and every day after that to rear him the best that I knew how in my faith and beliefs about life.
Possibly the largest compression of stressors came for me a couple of years after that moment in the hospital with my first child. In that year, I had a second child as well. A two-year-old boy and his baby brother, a tiny apartment, an income barely large enough for our needs, and the anxious uncertainty about what I had become. Was this it? I no longer had plans any more advanced than lunch and naptime. I had no dreams beyond the hope that both my sons would nap at the same time and give me two minutes to myself. I loved them, adored them even. But I felt completely lost inside the world of diapers and tears and pacifiers. I
needed a breakthrough.
And this time it didn’t come like the climax in a movie. I didn’t wake up one day with all the answers, get through the entire afternoon without regurgitated milk on my shoulder, keep the house clear of toddler clutter all day, and rediscover my identity by the quiet, peaceful evening. I voiced my troubles to a friend — and in those days that was pretty much the closest I came to having an actual conversation with God — but I didn’t receive immediate relief.
My friend came through for me, though, and I believe that was God’s first small gift towards my breakthrough. My friend related. She too had been there, wondering where she fit in the whole of society now that her only real admirers were barely beyond board books in their communication. Her children were slightly older than mine and she was further in the
process. It gave me hope.
The next gift came from a book by Ruth Bell Graham. Over and over she wrote of her own life with small children. Hers was often alone while her husband traveled with his ministry. She wrote poetry in those days thanking God for "small things." She discovered ways to find Him, and she rose above the clutter. I copied her quotations into my journal one evening when the toddler had long since been bathed and the baby slept peacefully in his swing. I read them over again for several days. I started thanking God for my own small things.
Then my mother, as in every stage of my life, also helped. She wrote out easy meal plans for me, gave me tips for keeping peace in the living room, and constantly gushed over my children and the joy I must feel every time I glanced at them.
Everywhere I turned, my breakthrough was edging its way through the soul clutter to
I still ask God for the giant breakthroughs. I still believe in miracles, and they often happen suddenly. But more often, I simply recognize my need, and then I open my eyes every
single day, hoping and expecting the moments of breakthrough to come. I look for them in my friends, convinced that at any given moment one of them might have just the encouragement I need. I look for them in my reading and in music, confident that God has spoken to me many times through these before and that He always will.
I think because we are inundated with story — through movies, books, and even prime time specials — perhaps we rely too much on the big, dramatic events that define us instead of accepting the small, consistent flow of life that draws us to God through each ordinary
moment. We need the patience to receive these gifts as they come and to sustain the strength they give us until the next gift should appear.
I know that when I recognize my need for a breakthrough now, I look for it to arrive in
pieces. And as with my first dramatic experience with God, I move towards it—knowing eventually I will look back and realize the breakthrough came.